The battle over who would be included on the Knysna Municipal Planning Tribunal (KMPT) deserves more detail than given in my previous blog, ‘Public Victory: Susan Campbell for Tribunal’.
THE PUBLIC PUT FIRST BY COINCIDENCE?
Politics was afoot when DA Speaker Eleanore Bouw-Spies moved the Knysna Municipal Planning Tribunal item from the back of the agenda to the front.
The public can rarely afford the patience (or the time off work) to sit through a full session of a Council meeting. Consequently, it’s become notable that some matters most relevant to the public will be placed near the end of the agenda i.e. for when the public is unlikely to be there.
I’ve attended most of the Council meetings for years. I can recall the DA moving an item for the convenience of their voting advantage when a DA councillor needed to leave early. But i cannot recall a matter being moved when it was of great public interest in which the DA was controversially involved.
WHO IS THE ANC WORKING FOR?
Consequently, although this was a matter of great public interest, the move must be considered political and to the DA’s advantage. It gave strength to the rumour that the ANC were going to walk out (as they’d done at the previous Section 80 meeting on the same matter).
But there an uncustomary amount of people in Council Chambers. Most were from Hornlee. They included strong representation from COPE and ICOSA. They were there for news about the ABSA housing development which had apparently fallen apart. There was no way that the ANC could skip that hot topic with elections only a month away.
Consequently, or so i assume, they were forced to hear the Knysna Municipal Planning Tribunal issue first.
Peter Myers opened the item, acknowledging the high quality of applicants. He pointed out the “significant deficiency” in that the current nominations never included a Knysna resident. Consequently, he disagreed with the Administration’s list and nominated Susan Campbell, a candidate who’d been excluded from the short-list.
It was a big question i’d raised before. Why would Municipal Manager Grant Easton and ex-Director Planning & Development Mike Maughan-Brown not want a Knysna resident on a panel involving Knysna land issues? Considering the never-ending scandal that is the ISDF, the 30-year plan for our town whose initial tender was handed to a losing bidder (a consortium headed by a local property developer), it’s a suspicious situation.
Why would the ANC, under Chief Whip Stephen de Vries, be supporting that goal of the Administration? In turn, that begs the question, “Who does the Knysna ANC serve?”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The ANC’s Mthobeli Dyanti pointed out that the nomination’s assessment stated that Susan Campbell, the only Knysna resident, had been assessed as having a “conflict of interest”.
Myers said all nominees, by their sworn declaration, had to remove themselves if there were ever an item before them that presented a conflict of interest. He emphasised that it could only be judged on an item by item basis. He stated that, “There cannot be a blanket conflict of interest,” as the ANC and Administration were saying.
De Vries, wouldn’t accept his explanation. “She has been involved in quite a few objections or was party to them”. He listed several matters but failed to support why any were conflicts of interest.
Having been pushed so far down the DA’s election candidate list so as to be un-electable, the DA’s Ray Barrelll repeatedly supported Myers’s position: “This isn’t an issue, for example, where an advocate who only presents criminals is applying for the position of Judge. In this situation,” he said, “we cannot exclude anyone on a conflict of interest unless they refused to sign the declaration [the job requires].”
Myers said that the Council would be hard pressed to find any applicant who hadn’t, at some stage, objected to some decision involving the Knysna Municipality. What he should have added is that an objection isn’t proof of a conflict of interest. Without reasons provided, an objection is only an objection.
De Vries asked of the the DA caucus has addressed Section 6 of administrative law which addresses the exclusion of people being a member of a tribunal if there is even a suspicion of bias. He was referring, out of context, to the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA). An exclusion cannot be made regards an unknown item to appear at an unknown date in the future.
He then requested a 10-minute ANC caucus. This refers to a party leaving the Council Chambers so as to have a private meeting wherein they discuss and decide on the next action.
Speaker Eleanore Bouw-Spies gave them 15-minutes.
On their return, De Vries said that the ANC had never had an opportunity to understand how the DA arrived at their decisions regarding their Tribunal candidates.
Myers objected, saying that the ANC had every opportunity but had chosen not to participate in the Special Section 80 meeting that had been called. He was referring to when the ANC had deliberately walked out so that there were insufficient committee members remaining to legally make a decision.
“No one will dictate to us when we ask for information,” stated the ANC’s Mertle Gombo.
Speaker Eleanore Bouw-Spies then sought a middle ground of alternate facts, explaining the difficulty in gaining answer:
Municipal Manager Grant Easton had been chairman of the process to choose Tribunal candidates. He was absent from this Special Council meeting, calling in sick a few hours before. Director Planning & Development Mike Maughan-Brown had also been involved – he’d recently quit. The Director of Electro-Technical was on holiday. She said that it would be unfair to put Acting Municipal Manager Bevan Ellman on the spot as he’d had short notice.
Ellman, however, said that this was the fourth time that the same item had been before them all i.e. information had been available and there’d been opportunity to ask questions. The unmentioned question was why were the ANC pretending otherwise. “We’ve been given a comprehensive report,” Ellman concluded. “I need you to ask a particular question.”
The ANC ignored what he’d said, asking if he was trying to undermine the process.
The Speaker repeated that the ANC needed to ask a specific question so that it could be answered.
Dyanti asked, “Why did the committee [originally] come to the recommendation to exclude Susan Campbell?”
Myers responded: “I believe that the committee came to an incorrect decision according to law.”
At this point, the ANC’s Wiseman Litoli became disruptive. He was admonished by the Speaker.
Myers repeated his position: “The assessment was that the panel made an error in law. I state that as an admitted member of the High Court.”
The Speaker brought the matter to a head, saying that the Council must respond to the recommendation.
Dyanti said, “We want to support the recommendation of the committee.” He was supported by Litoli who said, “We stand by the report of the officials.”
De Vries agreed to the second proposal that Eben Philips replace Sean Maree on the internal panel.
The DA voted in favour of Susan Campbell. COPE’s Ricky van Aswegen gave his swing vote to the DA.
Bizarrely, Litoli caused further disruption, before the ANC could vote. He was reprimanded by the Speaker.
De Vries said that that were. “Not going to speak about the affair between COPE and the DA.”
The ANC and the independent voted… and were outvoted.
De Vries stated that he wanted the decision taken under review. He requested that the ANC’s objection to the decision be recorded. Dramatically, he made each stand so as to individually state their name and their objection.
I haven’t mentioned all that was said in Council. DA councillors Ray Barrell and Peter Myers deserve credit for fighting for a better Planning Tribunal. The majority of that fight is guaranteed to have started behind the scenes.
I may be a large critic of Myers but will credit him when he deserves it. The wise Barrell will be missed. Unless there’s another emergency Council meeting, that will be his last appearance. He ended strongly.
Herewith are the Knysna Municipal Planning Tribunal (KMPT) members:
INTERNAL TRIBUNAL MEMBERS
- Marlene Boyce (Acting Director Planning & Development)
- Carl Mattheus (Manager Administration)
- Eben Philips (Manager IDP)
- Zinhle Twala (Town Planner)
EXTERNAL TRIBUNAL MEMBERS
- Daniel Lambrechts (ex-town planning for Western Cape – Wilderness resident)
- Goven Benjamin (ex- Western Cape government – George resident)
- Ludolph Gericke (candidate attorney/town planner – Plettenberg Bay resident)
- Susan Campbell (Knysna resident)